HealthDecember 30, 2016

How mindfulness transforms the nurse and patient experience

Learn why mindfulness is a practice imperative for both nurses and nursing leaders.

In recent years, mindfulness has swept the nation by storm. Its popularity is understandable. In a time when our restaurants are filled with multiple big-screen TVs flashing various sporting events simultaneously, our stores feature end-of-the-aisle devices loudly promoting products, and our cell phones are frantically emitting beeps, ringtones and alarms, our minds can be so easily swept away by the noise — and miss the nugget — of the present moment.

The healthcare environment, in most cases, isn’t any quieter. There are call alarms, bed alarms, monitor alarms, text alarms, phone calls, to-do lists, and meetings, meetings and more meetings to juggle. In the midst of all the loud demands, it can be easy to forget the reason healthcare exists: to help patients and their families.

Mindfulness brings us back to reality.

“Mindfulness means intentionally paying attention to the present moment,” explain nurse experts in a recent Nursing Management article, “with a nonjudgmental attitude of acceptance and awareness.”

By accepting and maintaining the practice of mindfulness, they write, nurses and nurse leaders can improve patient and organizational outcomes and, at the same time, restore joy to the nursing profession.

What mindfulness looks like

Mindful nurses pay attention. They do not waste energy mulling about yesterday or fretting about tomorrow. They stay focused on their current moment and are mindfully aware of the person behind the “patient.”

“When a nurse is able to embrace an aware, focused and present state that transcends the execution of tasks, he or she is practicing mindfulness,” according to the article. “In the mindful space, seemingly small moments become profound experiences and intimate human connections exceed tasks.”

Nurses benefit by reconnecting with their original motivations for joining the profession: to help people and to make a difference. Patients benefit by having caregivers who are focused, calm and deeply aware of their needs. Mindful nurses are stronger advocates and more conscious of subtle changes in a patient’s condition.

“As attention is rooted more firmly in the present and less on the past and/or future, depression, rumination, and anxiety decrease,” the article explains. “The resulting effect is energy that was once spent clinging to the past or worrying about the future can now be spent in the present.”

Mindful nurse leaders are likewise aware of the employees and organizations behind their day-to-day work. They’re authentic. They connect with others. They stay in touch with their values.

“Excellent leaders,” the article points out, “follow their inner compass to inspire, coach and guide others with compassion, clarity and purpose.”

Making space for reflection

The practice of mindfulness is relatively simple at its essence. In reality, though, it can be tricky to maintain, “particularly,” the authors observe, “when stressed and challenged.”

Fortunately, an important tenet of mindfulness practice is a realistic, nonjudgmental acceptance of the moment. By showing compassion to yourself, you’re more likely to have it available for others. Later, when you take the time to reconnect and refuel yourself (whether through a favorite hobby, exercise or reconnecting with nature — self-replenishing is another key mindfulness principle), you can practically reflect on various situations and how to move forward with intention and aim.

Today’s complex, sensory-rich healthcare environments are not exactly set up for reflective, mindful approaches to patient care. Nurse leaders, however, can work to change that to better promote person-centered care and even the organization’s bottom line.

“Nurse leaders are positioned to create effective systems and process changes to facilitate mindful practice at all points across the healthcare continuum,” the article states. “There's growing evidence that hospital performance is improved when leaders create optimal nurse practice environments—an additional incentive to cultivate mindfulness and person-centeredness in our current Value-Based Purchasing climate.”

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